2018 MLB Draft: Arkansas' Top Prospects
1. Blaine Knight, RHP, Arkansas (BA Rank: 36)
4YR • 6-3 • 165 • -R • Rangers '17 (29)
Ranked No. 84 on the 2017 BA 500 as a talented, but skinny, righthander with a lot of projection, Knight was drafted by the Rangers in the 29th round as a draft-eligible sophomore. Instead of signing, he chose to come back for his junior season at Arkansas, where he has been one of the best starters in the SEC. Through the first 10 starts of his junior season, Knight is 6-0, 2.24, including a matchup against Casey Mize in which the Auburn ace was handed his first loss of the season. Knight has added a few pounds between his sophomore and junior seasons, but still has plenty of room to add more strength to a thin frame. Listed at 6-foot-3, 165 pounds, Knight’s electric arm allows him to get into the mid-90s with his fastball and snap off one of the highest spin-rate breaking balls in the country. Knight’s track record in the SEC alone would get him drafted, with his highest ERA over a full season checking in at 3.28. Add in the fact that Knight is one of the more projectable juniors in the class who has shown the ability to throw strikes and there’s a lot more teams can dream on down the line, especially considering his quick arm, growing frame and high-end feel for spin.
2. Isaiah Campbell, RHP, Arkansas (BA Rank: 73)
4YR • 6-4 • 230 • R-R • Never Drafted
Campbell has a near perfect pitcher’s frame at 6-foot-4, 225 pounds and his stuff lives up to expectations. He can sit 92-94 mph with a deceptive 82-84 mph above-average changeup and an 78-84 mph fringe-average curveball that he can locate for strikes. His curveball doesn’t currently have the sharpness it’s shown in the past, however, and Campbell’s results have rarely matched his stuff this season. He was pushed from Saturday to the Sunday starter role as he struggled, and he was 3-5, 4.76 with more than a hit allowed per inning as of early May. Campbell’s delivery leaves him pitching uphill, with his arm working to catch up to his lower half. That makes it a little tougher for him to locate down in the zone and his control does waver at times. But Campbell’s biggest problem this year has been maintaining his stuff. He has made it out of the sixth inning only once in his first 11 starts and he failed to make it through the fifth in six of those 11 starts. Campbell is a deliberate worker. He is a redshirt sophomore who missed the 2017 season with elbow soreness and missed a start against Ole Miss this season with elbow inflammation. Campbell’s lengthy medical will play a factor in where he is drafted, but he has shown promise when he is at his best.
3. Jaden Hill, RHP, Ashdown (Ark.) HS (BA Rank: 86)
HS • 6-4 • 215 • R-R • Louisiana State
An athletic righthander, Hill was also seen as a solid quarterback prospect in high school, although he broke his right collarbone while on the football field during his senior season. Prior to the fall, Hill had put himself on teams’ radars with several impressive performances, including an outing at the East Coast Pro showcase where he sat in the low 90s with life to his fastball. He also showed one of the better changeups at the event, a pitch in the 78-82 mph range that he threw with fastball arm speed and got multiple swings and misses. With a 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame, Hill offers some projection thanks to his athleticism and two-sport background, and he also showed impressive feel to pitch. His breaking ball has also looked better this spring than last summer. Teams will be more concerned with his arm following the collarbone injury, as some scouts have noted that it impacted his armspeed, but the Louisiana State commit has still been up to 94-95 mph at times this spring.
4. Grant Koch, C, Arkansas (BA Rank: 128)
4YR • 6-0 • 195 • R-R • Never Drafted
Koch established himself as a potential first-day pick as a sophomore, when he hit 13 home runs for Arkansas and followed that up by hitting .372 with 10 walks and 11 strikeouts in 43 at-bats for USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team last summer. He’s failed to match that production as a junior, though, as he was hitting .273/.386/.448 with seven home runs as of mid-May. Koch has struggled as pitchers worked him away constantly in the SEC this year, but he still has a good understanding of the strike zone and could produce solid on-base percentages with the power to run into 15 home runs with everyday at-bats. Defensively, he’s shown steady improvement. His average arm plays up because he’s accurate with his throws and his footwork and transfer have gotten better at Arkansas. His lateral movement is his biggest challenge defensively and he’ll have to continue to work on improving his agility.
5. P.J. Hilson, OF/RHP, Nettleton HS, Jonesboro, Ark. (BA Rank: 171)
HS • 5-10 • 165 • R-R • Alabama
Hilson is one of the speedier center fielders in the high school draft class, as he earns consistent 70 grades on his speed. That speed is apparent as he ranges around center field. But unlike a lot of speedsters, Hilson has some potential to drive the ball, with strong hands and at-least average bat speed. He could develop into an above-average hitter with the potential for 10-15 home runs a year. The Alabama signee has also touched 93 mph off the mound this year. If he gets to school, he has a chance to develop into a two-way player for the Crimson Tide.
6. Kaleb Hill, LHP, Watson Chapel HS, Pine Bluff, Ark. (BA Rank: 205)
HS • 6-4 • 215 • R-L • Mississippi
Hill, an Ole Miss signee, is a projectable lefthander who combines athleticism with solid present stuff. He will touch 90-92 mph, although he generally sits in the upper 80s right now. He’s shown he can control and locate his mid-70s curveball that has solid 12-to-6 shape. Hill helped lead Watson Chapel to the Arkansas 5A state championship game, where he carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning, but ended up losing 1-0.
7. Tyler Gray, RHP, Central Arkansas (BA Rank: 300)
4YR • Sr. • 6-2 • 180 • R-R • Twins '17 (20)
Gray has the makings of an excellent senior sign as a productive college starting pitcher with a long track record of success. A 20th-round pick of the Twins last season, Gray has been even better as a senior. Scouts in to see Missouri State shortstop Jeremy Eierman in February watched Gray shut out the Bears for seven innings, striking out nine. He struck out 10 or more in three of his first nine starts this season. Gray mixes an 89-91 mph fastball, an average curveball and a fringe-average changeup, but he locates all three of his pitches well and is competitive on the mound.
8. Ben Madison, RHP, Central Baptist (Ark.) (BA Rank: 344)
4YR • Jr. • 6-3 • 200 • R-R • Never Drafted
Madison was a compelling combination of athleticism and potential when he was coming out of Bauxite (Ark.) HS in 2015. Three years later, that scouting report still applies, but now he has some dominant performances in NAIA ball on his resume. As of early May, Madison was leading all NAIA pitchers with 16 strikeouts per nine innings and he has reached double-digit strikeouts in nine of his first 14 starts in 2018. Madison’s above-average, 91-93 mph fastball can touch 95-96 mph at its best. It sets up an above-average slider that has left hitters helpless and he mixes in the sporadic curveball. Madison will need to continue to develop his secondary offerings, but as a twitchy athlete who could continue to develop, Madison is a high-upside righthander who could be drafted late on day two or early on day three of this year’s draft.
9. Jax Biggers, SS, Arkansas (BA Rank: 355)
4YR • Jr. • 5-11 • 180 • R-R • Never Drafted
Biggers helped lead Cisco (Texas) JC to the NJCAA College World Series as a freshman, then took over as Arkansas’ everyday shortstop as a sophomore. He’s handled that job ever since. Statistically his junior year (.276/.388/.387) isn’t coming close to matching the .338/.423/.498 he hit as a sophomore, but he still impresses with his wide array of admittedly modest tools. His below-average arm will not let him stay at shortstop everyday as a pro, but he has enough range to be an above-average defensive second baseman who can also play third. He’s a utility infielder in pro ball, but one whose track record of SEC success gives him a good chance to be climb the minor league ladder.
10. Kacey Murphy, LHP, Arkansas (BA Rank: 419)
4YR • Jr. • 6-0 • 200 • L-L • Never Drafted
There’s little flashy about Murphy, but he has been effective with fringe-average stuff and above-average control. Scouts like his competitiveness and his ability to get ahead of hitters. He bumps up to 90-91 mph at his best, but Murphy lives in the upper 80s with his fastball. What has made the fastball effective is its movement and his ability to locate it to both sides of the plate. The same can be said for his fringe-average changeup and curveball. Neither is particularly sharp, but he locates them well. Murphy’s margin of error is small and when he misses, he’s prone to giving up home runs, but he doesn’t make many mistakes and he went 7-4, 3.15 this season.
11. Peyton Culbertson, RHP, Arkansas State (BA Rank: 431)
4YR • Jr. • 6-1 • 220 • L-R • Never Drafted
Culbertson has been a three-year contributor for Arkansas State, spending most of his time in the Red Wolves rotation. He has plenty of arm strength, but the results haven't always matched his stuff. He can sit 94-96 mph as a starter and has touched 98-100 out of the bullpen. Culbertson doesn't miss all that many bats (48 strikeouts in 50 innings this year), but his cutter and changeup both show flashes of being at least average pitches. They and his slider and curve are all generally below-average, but his velocity and potential make him a modest risk with potentially a big payoff.
12. Eric Cole, OF, Arkansas (BA Rank: 433)
4YR • Jr. • 5-11 • 195 • R-R • Never Drafted
Cole is a switch-hitter with a power-oriented approach and swing. There’s some length to the path and he uses a big leg kick to get his timing and weight transferred, so there’s some understandable concern about how much contact he’ll make against advanced pitching. But he has hit .329/.416/.545 with 12 home runs this year. His approach does pay off in above-average power that could entice a team to draft him. He’s strictly a corner outfielder.
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13. Wade Beasley, RHP, Hortio (Ark.) HS (BA Rank: N/A)
HS • Arkansas
Only one high school player has been drafted and signed out of an Arkansas high school in the past four years, so the odds are that Wade Beasley will make it to Arkansas. But the big righthander has touched 93-94 while showing a fast arm. He’s raw and has a lot of refinement ahead of him, which he’ll probably be doing in Fayetteville.
14. Evan Lee, OF/LHP, Arkansas (BA Rank: N/A)
4YR • DE-So. • 6-2 • 200 • -L • Never Drafted
A true two-way player who has some pro potential both ways, Lee mixes a 91-92 mph fastball and a fringe-average breaking ball. As an outfielder he's a left fielder/first baseman with above-average power potential who is also an average runner. As a draft-eligible sophomore, his modest production this year (4-3, 5.00 in 18 innings, .300/.383/.520 in 51 at-bats) might lead him to return to school.
15. Kam'ron Emmanuel Mays-Hunt, SS/OF/RHP, Bentonville (Ark.) HS (BA Rank: N/A)
HS • 6-0 • 175 • L-R • Arkansas
An Arkansas signee, Emmanuel Mays-Hunt has arm speed (90-92 mph fastball) and some athleticism.
16. Barrett Loseke, RHP, Arkansas (BA Rank: N/A)
4YR • Jr. • 6-0 • 175 • R-R • Never Drafted
A cousin of Alex Gordon, Loseke has had a successful season working off of an 89-92 mph fastball. He was 2-2, 3.35 during the regular season with 51 strikeouts in 40.1 innings.
17. Connor McCullough, RHP, Maumelle (Ark.) HS (BA Rank: N/A)
HS • Arkansas
McCullough was also Maumelle's quarterback. The Arkansas signee has a fastball that has touched 90-91 mph.
18. Troy Alexander, OF, Arkansas-Little Rock (BA Rank: N/A)
4YR • Jr. • 6-4 • 215 • -L • Never Drafted
Alexander has plus raw power that could entice a team to take a chance on him even though there are concerns over how much he'll hit. He hit .291/.357/.476 this year with seven home runs.
19. Jake Reindl, RHP, Arkansas (BA Rank: N/A)
4YR • Jr. • 6-1 • 200 • L-R • Never Drafted
20. Marcus Ragan, OF, Arkansas-Little Rock (BA Rank: N/A)
4YR • Jr. • 5-11 • 185 • R-R • Never Drafted
Ragan has solid tools, but his .254/.322/.302 season will likely send him back to school. He did steal 24 bases in 30 attempts.